ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS Send This Review to a Friend
If farce is to your taste, you are not likely to see a funnier one than the steeped-in-mayhem British import “One Man, Two Guvnors,” based on Carlo Goldoni’s "The Servant of Two Masters” and updated and relocated from mid-18th century Venice to the 1960s British seaside town of Brighton. The Music Box is rocking with laughter, and the reason is largely, but not entirely, due the broad talent of the star, James Corden, a gale-force comedian of the Benny Hill type who not only raises slapstick to new heights but has the gift of winning over an audience with his sheer likeability. If Cordon can’t make you laugh, you must have a face of stone.
The success also owes much to the direction of Nicholas Hytner, as the entire production clicks along with overall insanity. There are lags here and there involving the need for plot exposition, but the supporting cast is so skillful at mining all the comedy inherent in the writing of Richard Bean that one is quickly drawn back into new helpings of hilarity. Plot hardly matters but is merely an excuse for the fun.
Before the show starts, and at scene-changing intervals, a group of musicians called The Craze, regales us with songs (by Grant Olding) and an assortment of instruments, including a washboard, and in one instance a cast member shows up to beat his manly bare chest as a drum. During the performance Corden interacts with the audience, and one can enjoy figuring out who are spontaneously chosen and who is shilling. Either way, the results are extremely funny.
The assortment of characters include Tom Edden as Alfie, a waiter with the shakes whose looks remind me of the late Marty Feldman, and who is getting knocked about, running into walls, falling down stairs and providing gales of laughter as he carries plates jiggling in his shaky hands while he struggles to make his way across the stage. He had me in stitches.
There has to be a big-breasted woman in such a mix, and Suzie Toase embodies the classic type as Dolly, who wiggles sexily in her tight outfit in a throwback to old British music hall shtick. The show is loaded with sight gags, such as a newly ironed shirt with the mark of the iron imprinted on the back, Corden trying to eat a piece of cheese from a mousetrap, tumbling over furniture or attempting to lift a supposedly heavy trunk, for which he enlists two audience members.
The dialogue is rich in double entendres and wordplay alliteration, as well as sentences that are totally nutty, also in British music hall tradition. The names of the various characters are funny in themselves, such as Harry Dangle, Charlie “the Duck” Clench, Rachel Crabbe and Stanley Stubbers.
It would be a spoiler to describe more of the hell-raising that flashes by in the show. You have to be there. And you just have to make the acquaintance of Corden, as affable and enjoyable a comic Brit who ever crossed the Atlantic. At the Music Box, 239 West 45th Street, Phone: 212-239-6200.